Last year, out of the blue, I was offered the opportunity to join a group on a trek up Mount Kenya. Having never walked outside of the UK, and unlikely to do anything so adventurous on my own, I accepted the invitation and spent the next 5 months trying to get fit for a walk up the second highest mountain in Africa.
Arriving in Nairobi at around 7am, we were met by our two drivers who loaded our luggage into (and on top of) the Land Cruisers then drove us the 100km, or so, to Mountain Rock Lodge. We stopped at a service station – well, more accurately, a carved wooden animal shop with a toilet. It was pretty obvious that there was probably some sort of arrangement between the tour company and the shop, as these were the most expensive carved animals we saw during our time in Kenya (and I was slightly shocked to see a “We accept Visa” sign!).
After arriving at the lodge, the rest of the first day was spent on a walk to the Mau Mau caves, relaxing and repacking our bags. Our main bags were to be carried by porters while we carried only a day-pack. We were introduced to our main guide, Francis, who explained the dangers of altitude sickness, dehydration and – most risky of all – a negative attitude. If we were to reach the summit, it was important to think positive thoughts. How right he proved to be!
Day 1 – Sirimon Gate to Old Moses Camp (3300m)
Sirimon Gate lies at about 2600 metres and was a couple of hours drive from the lodge. On the way, we crossed the equator so stopped for the obligatory photographs.
After a packed lunch at the park gate, we set off on our adventure. Only 9km to walk today and we finished at Old Moses Camp which is at 3300m. The weather was fine and sunny and the walking was quite easy. We were on a dusty track for most of the way and all had filthy legs by the time we reached the camp. In some ways, the track reminded me of parts of Scotland; obviously Bulldozed with little regard for aesthetics, this was a practical track for easy access.
I found that I did get out-of-breath quite easily on the uphill sections, but recovered almost instantly as soon as I took a rest.
Old Moses Camp consists mainly of a long green shed containing bunk rooms, a long dining room, and a couple of toilets. It was perfectly comfortable, although I don’t think many of us slept too well on that first night. As well as having a porter each and a couple of guides, we also had a cook and his assistant who managed to keep us well fed throughout the trip. I believe our group of 11 walkers were supported by a team of 20 staff; I’m still not sure how I feel about that, given that I usually carry everything myself.
Day 2 – Old Moses Camp to Shipton’s Camp (4200m)
The second day was a 14km walk with 900m of ascent overall, but consisting of a couple of big climbs and drops. Right from the start I felt sick and had a churning stomach. Was it something I ate? Had I drunk dirty water? Was I dehydrated? Or was it altitude sickness? Whatever the reason for my illness, this was not a nice day for me. I took a healthy mix of paracetamol, ibuprofen, loperamide and anti-emetics [always walk with a group of nurses and doctors, if you can!] but felt awful all day. Not only did I feel sick, but every step was a huge effort.
It was a shame I felt ill, as this was lovely walking. The sky was overcast, which probably protected us from the worst of the sun, and it was perfect, warm walking weather.
I was glad to reach Shipton’s Camp and to lie down on my bunk. The thought of dinner did not appeal to me, although I knew I had to eat. I did my best to drink lots of water but really just wanted to lie in bed feeling sorry for myself. Eventually, I was sick and started to feel a bit better – even managing to eat a bit of dinner. I was now quite anxious about the two days which lay ahead; if I felt this bad at 4200m, just how bad were things going to be at 4985m?